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United Archives ‘Lost’ Lennon Demos

A cassette of John Lennon demos, thought lost for years, was recently preserved at United Recording.

Photo: David Goggin

Hollywood, CA (December 21, 2017)—Alone in Bermuda in 1980, John Lennon began writing songs for the first time in years—some that would become the foundation for his final album, Double Fantasy, and others that were meant for his fellow former Beatle, Ringo Starr, to record. With only consumer cassette recorders available on the island, Lennon began demoing the songs and eventually gave Starr a tape of tunes that included a rough draft of “Real Love,” later to be augmented by the surviving Beatles for a Beatles Anthology single in 1995. But in the years after Lennon’s death on December 8 that year, the simple cassette became priceless to Starr—not as memorabilia, but for its personal significance. And then it went missing.

Or so he thought.

Lennon’s producer/engineer, Jack Douglas, explains, “I was hanging out with Ringo [recently] and he said to me, ‘I had a bunch of John’s memorabilia in a box and when I moved, the box disappeared. I don’t have that cassette from Bermuda anymore.'”

John Lennon: Producer

As it turned out, the cassette was safe in the hands of Douglas, who co-produced Double Fantasy with Lennon and Yoko Ono. As he recalled, the cassette only existed because Lennon’s sojourn to Bermuda began with a sailing trip from Newport, RI to the small island nation. What started as a relaxing yacht trip became a nightmare, however, when the boat was enveloped by a severe storm that left most of the crew seasick and exhausted. As a result, Lennon the passenger wound up single-handedly steering the boat through the storm, alone for much of the trip. When he arrived in Bermuda, he found himself energized with regained confidence for having survived the terrifying ordeal, and that in turn, led to an unexpected deluge of songs.

When Douglas realized he had the lost demo cassette, he knew what to do. “I wanted to make a CD of the cassette for Ringo and came to United Recording  to work with archivist Dan Johnson,” Douglas said.

While United has recorded thousands of legendary sessions going back decades, its archiving department is a relatively new addition, well-suited to preserve the priceless recording. “We built our new archiving studio to accommodate analog and early digital recordings that are nearing the end of their shelf lives,” said United studio manager Rob Goodchild. “We ensure recordings are properly preserved and archived.”

Nonetheless, Johnson, head archivist at United, had no idea he would be saving legendary lost demos when he came to work that day. “I didn’t know what Jack was planning; he booked some time and explained he wanted to transfer a cassette,” he recalled.

Johnson soon found out and then faced a different challenge: “It was one of those ‘Oh my God’ moments, but you have to maintain a level of professionalism.

“I made sure everything was aligned properly and that the machine would accept the tape,” he added. “The cassette was in great condition and played back perfectly.”

Douglas, on hand to hear the transfer, was also pleased, praising the results: “It’s incredible to hear what Dan has done.”